Bastible: who would ever go out for brunch again when they could have this instead?
Bastible, 111 South Circular Road, Dublin 8 (01) 473 7409
The first people that we see when we arrive at Bastible for Sunday lunch at the civilised time of 3.30pm on a wet and blustery afternoon are James Sheridan and Soizic Humbert with the staff of their terrific restaurant, Canteen in Celbridge, Co Kildare.
It may be mid-February but they are having their Christmas celebration; businesses operating in the hospitality industry don't have time to have a Christmas party in December, because they are too busy making sure that everyone else enjoys theirs.
It used to be that chefs were a competitive, grumpy cohort, with ne'er a good word to say about one another's restaurants. And while there are undoubtedly some of this dinosaur breed still around, the new generation of younger chefs is a much friendlier bunch altogether, given to eating in each other's restaurants and complimenting each other's food on social media. It's very touchy-feely altogether and would warm the cockles of your heart, really, it would. So, there is the Canteen crew, coming to the end of their lunch, happy smiles on their faces, and a decorous bunch they are, it has to be said.
I'm not a fan of brunch. With a few notable exceptions - Two Boys Brew (Phibsborough, Dublin 7) and Meet Me in the Morning (Pleasants Street, Dublin 8) are two - it's not a meal that I look forward to. It's too like mass-catering for my liking, with restaurants serving large volumes of mainly pre-cooked food to hungover customers whose critical faculties to assess the quality of what they are being served are - usefully, for the restaurant - impaired. (I have a particular problem with the egg dimension of brunch and do not think I am alone in this.)
If one is not enamoured of the brunch concept, it's harder than you might think to find somewhere to eat out on a Sunday. Many restaurants are closed and, while there is an increasing number of gastropubs that take their food seriously (such as The Old Spot on Bath Avenue, in Dublin 4), the choice is still limited.
A few weeks in advance, we had tried to book a Sunday lunch table at Bastible for a family birthday celebration and been told that there were none available. So we deferred for a week on the request of the birthday boy, who wasn't going to be palmed off with a carvery.
There's a set menu priced at between €34 and €38, the amount varying week to week according to what's on the menu. Chef Barry Fitzgerald offers a selection of starters served family-style, so that everyone can help themselves, a no-choice main course and two dessert options. An extra cheese course attracts a €7 supplement, and there's a full vegetarian menu available on request, priced at €29. The menu asks customers to let the restaurant know of any dietary requirements - it's a good idea to do this at the time of booking, rather than when you sit down and look at the menu for the first time; you're likely to eat better and it's a courtesy to the kitchen.
On the day of our visit, we kick off with some of Bastible's own house-made sourdough bread and cultured butter - excellent - and a plate of raw carrots with a spiced pistachio dip and crème fraîche that feels fresh and vibrant. Croquettes of broccoli and Young Buck (an outstanding raw-milk blue cheese made by Mike Thomson in Newtownards, Co Down) in a texturally interesting crumb served with tartare sauce are perfectly judged and dangerously delicious (just as well there's only one each), while a salad of smoked beetroot comes with hazelnut butter, some greenery and wafer-thin sheets of lardo - there might have been quince too - and is effortlessly gorgeous.
Raw, hand-dived scallops, sweet and melting, are tossed with fennel, blood orange and dill before being topped with shavings of bottarga - dried roe, usually of grey mullet or bluefin tuna. (A week later, at a market stall in Lisbon, I buy a packet in the hope of recreating the dish at home.)
The main course is saddle and neck of lamb, the former slightly pink and tender; the latter unctuously dark and rich, served with roasted turnip, white beans and wild garlic. It's ostensibly a simple dish, yet so much more elevated than anything one is ever going to produce at home for Sunday lunch, and very, very good.
For the table there are confit potatoes, salsa verde and charred cauliflower, and it feels homely and convivial to be sharing in this way. By way of dessert there's a warm chocolate brownie with sea-salt ice cream, about which nobody has a bad word to say - how could they? - and the more unusual option of baked pear with Jerusalem artichoke and salted caramel ice cream, which is topped with shards of treacly crunch. The dish wins some converts to the idea of vegetable as dessert.
The day's cheese is Humming Bark - a new one on me, it comes from Carrigbyrne Farmhouse in Wexford - which is wonderfully stinky and a worthy Irish rival to one of my favourites, Vacherin Mont d'Or.
I had eaten at Bastible only once before, shortly after it opened. Back then, I was underwhelmed by the food and the service. On this occasion, both were flawless. Our bill for six, including water, a round of cocktails, two bottles and a few glasses of wine, plus two extra cheese courses, came to €420 before service.
9/10 value for money
ON A BUDGET
The two-course, which Bastible serves on Friday and Saturday, costs €24.
ON A BLOW-OUT
At dinner, there's a Chef's Menu for €45 with wine pairings available. The wine list offers the potential to run up quite a bill.
THE HIGH POINT
A dish of raw hand-dived scallops with blood orange, fennel and bottarga was the peak of an impeccable meal served by relaxed staff.
THE LOW POINT
That I can't go to Bastible for lunch every Sunday. Honestly, who would ever go out for brunch again when they could have this instead?